Ah yes, the night of mystery and magic named for an albino wallaby.
Um, OK, it’s the other way around. She’s named for the saint whose cannonization date is the name of a rather strange night in German. Saint Walburga, or Walpurga, was cannonized on May 1. Thus the eve of her secondary feast is Walburga’s Eve, or Walpurgisnacht. It coincides with a quarter-day, between the equinox and solstice.
The historical Walburga was an English Saxon noblewoman, born around 710. Her maternal uncle and her brother were both missionary priests. When the Holy Roman Emperors began pushing the continental Saxons to convert, the Church decided that sending a Saxon to convert Saxons might be one of the more efficient ways to go about it. Thus we have people such as St. Bonifice, an English priest and nobleman, who traveled to what is now central and northern Germany to found monasteries, build churches, and bring enlightenment to the Heiden (heathen.) They needed support, both moral and physical, and so Bonifice and others invited English nuns to come to manage the convents and provide support for mission work. Lioba at Fulda is one of the best known, at least in Germany, but Walburga was one of the other convent managers, abbess of a double monastery (male and female) at Heidenheim [“Home of the Pagans”]. Walburga died in February 777 or 779. She is credited with healing, and is invoked for protection from rabies and storms. She is often shown with a sheaf of grain, although she is not an “official” patroness of farmers or protectress of the harvest.*
The quarter day marked the beginning of warm weather (at least in theory). It was also the day when, according to tradition, witches and evil spirits flocked to the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, for wild revels. That the Harz had been full of pre-Christian worship sites and is associated with lots and lots of legends is, of course, pure coincidence. That the Ottonian Holy Roman Emperors had to station soldiers there to keep Christians from backsliding is not coincidence. Goethe immortalized the story in the first book of Faust. Thus Walpurgisnacht became the time for debauchery and infernal revelry. Think of the female spirits in the hands of the night figure in Disney’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and you get what Medieval preachers preached about. St. Walburga would likely not have been too surprised, although she likely would have questioned the smarts of people who went up on a snow-dusted peak to have an orgy. There are recent stories that “Satanists” have tried to take up Walpurgisnacht for activities, sort of like accusations in the US about Halloween, but this far nothing has come of it. People play pranks, have bonfires, and take steps to prevent witches from hexing them.
Thus we have a German Familiar named Walburga**. And Walpurgisnacht.
*There are theories that she was connected with an older Saxon goddess of crops, like Frau Pechta in Hesse, or St. Bride/Brigit in Ireland. It is possible, but the documentation for Walburga is quite extensive.
**Depending on how the German is pronounced, “p” and “b” can be very hard to distinguish.